On Time, Matzah, and True Happiness
Over the holiday week, I heard a great talk by our local Rav, who provided a further explanation as to why this time of year is so exciting for us women. He also, incredibly, touched upon and tied in so many different aspects that I have learned about this year - about time, happiness, and our true nature. I will try my best to deliver the wonder of it here.
Passover is behind us now…and as it passed I gained a deeper understanding into why it feels so good.
You have been reading about how much I love this time of year, the weather, the whole Passover experience. And, over the holiday, I had many an opportunity to talk with other women, and found that they felt the same way. I found that the relief and excitement they felt centered around one of the aspects that attracts me as well – the acute movement out of everyday routine into Passover routine. From our food choices to the whole new recipe repertoire, from the special dishes we use to the lack of dishwashers. And, of course, NO WASHING LAUNDRY :). Waking up late, family outings/quality time, all on a daily basis.
As women, this break in the usual shopping and recipes, the break in dealing with the laundry, the late morning wake-ups with no rushing kids out the door and sandwich making…it is a great big breath of fresh air.
But I have recently heard a connection that brings more meaning into all of the above.
On Passover, eating leavened bread (bread that has yeast in it and is given time to rise into fluffy dough) is forbidden. We spend hours and hours ridding our houses of any traces of leavened bread, crumbs, or items that have leavened bread in them. The punishment for eating bread on Passover is the most strict punishment for eating a forbidden food – Karet (cutting off from the Jewish nation) – worse even than eating non-kosher pig. This begs a few questions: if this is so forbidden, why is it the only food forbidden for only 7 days out of the whole year?? Every other food that is forbidden to us is forbidden, period. All 365 days of the year. Second: what is so special about leavened bread that makes it so forbidden, and just for these seven days? And, third, if this is the holiday that celebrates freedom and becoming a free nation after the servitude we suffered in Egypt, why is the “rich man’s bread” that we eat Matzah (a dry, flat baked flour and water mixture that is not given time to rise and needs to be baked within 18 minutes of being mixed together)? Why not rich, doughy, fluffy leavened bread – what we would assume to be rich man’s bread?
The answer lies in one word: TIME. Time is the link between all of the above.
Leavened bread is dependent on TIME. Matzah, however, depends on nothing to come out right. Flour, water, straight into the oven, and out before 18 minutes have passed – it is all relatively simple, straightforward, and not reliant on other forces. It is what it is. And nothing more, nothing less. It is honest, simple, true.
On this special holiday, when we are whisked out of Egypt and into our salvation in the blink of an eye, with little forethought, and no time for preparation (or even for the bread to rise), we are living above and beyond time. Time is the interface with which man interacts with other moving things in the world. It is his ruler for measuring the advancement of life, as he experiences it. If we dwell on time, if we drag things out, take time to plan in a painstaking manner, draw out decisions, we are making ourselves reliant on time. And are caught up with the forces of life and how they impact us.
If, however, we act above the limits of time, if we make quick and decisive decisions, if we keep moving forward without unnecessary hovering and hesitation, we stay above the constraints of time and move forward on our paths with quick speed.
Bottom line: We prevent time from being a factor that defines us and our actions. Instead, we have time bow to us and use it to build our selves and our actions.
That is the Freedom we are experiencing on this holiday. We celebrate the freedom from being servants to any external factors (like yeast and time that work on the dough to make it rise) that work in the world other than G-d and His Divine plan. We keep the interface to a minimum, thus experiencing true freedom. We are like matzah – simply our true nature, without any reliance. We return to our truest essence. That is the freedom we experienced then, and every year since, reliving the movement from slavery in Egypt to becoming the united Jewish nation when we were taken out.
So, we return to one of our initial questions. Why, if this is such a great happiness for us, if this is the pinnacle of personal freedom, do we celebrate it for only seven days??
The reality is that G-d did create yeast, and time. He created a whole world full of “external factors” like needing a source of income, family, community, recreation. They exist constantly, and we exist with their existence. Here is the question: do we allow our being to bend to them, to be reliant on them, to build who we are, or do we stay above that and use these forces to our own advantage? Ie, instead of them being forces that work on us, we act as the force that determines what we allow to influence/shape our lives?
That is the difference between Passover, and the rest of the year. On Passover, we remember our essence. We live the definition of freedom. We REJOICE in it. And then we go back into counting time (sephirat haomer,) and 40 days later we celebrate Shavuot by bringing a sacrifice of leavened bread. We celebrate that we are humans in this world, learning to live as Matzah in a world of leavened bread. We remember to stay above. To celebrate our truest essence existing in a world of factors trying to bend us.
We move out of routine, out of time, and rise above it. We rejoice and feel so much freedom and happiness in the simplicity of living as our truest selves. Simple food, simplified life. Living in the moment.
One more thing. In prayer, on Sabbath, there is a recurring theme of resting and letting the soul rest (shavat vayinafash, menucha). On the Three Special Holidays (Succot, Pesach, and Shavuot), the recurring words are rejoicing and happiness (sasson v’simcha). On the Sabbath, we rest. We recognize that all the work and toil we invest ourselves in during the week is all fruitful only as G-d says so. But on each holiday, however, we celebrate unique milestones during the year. Our freedom, being above time, and our dwelling. The renewal that we feel at each holiday, at each interface with our accomplishments over time, at each movement out of our routine - that serves as a wellspring of happiness within. Newness, creation, watching ourselves reach new milestones as an individual and as a people, that fills us with a fulfilling joy that is above all joys. That is our truest happiness.
Matzah. So much more than just cleaning our houses and eating dry flat unleavened bread for seven days.
With love and the joy of freedom,